When I was accepted into the College of Applied Health Sciences (AHS) at Illinois, I wasn’t really sure what career path I wanted to take, but I did know I wanted to do something in a health-related field. I came upon the Speech & Hearing Science major through the AHS website after a meeting with my academic advisor. I explored the career options and transferred into the major during my sophomore year.

At Illinois I wanted to find my community – people with similar backgrounds and cultures, so I joined various cultural organizations. One of them was the Latino Student Association, which met at the residence hall I lived in, which was a big plus. I became part of that organization and then eventually served on their Executive Board. Another organization was the American Sign Language Club, which I was involved with all four years. One of the outside activities that we did was signing the National Anthem at an Illinois basketball game. It was very meaningful, being able to stand in front of a big crowd of people and provide accessibility to so many. That’s something I definitely look back on and enjoy.

A Resident Director, Norma Garcia, also made a big difference for me. I worked for her as an Office Assistant all four years. Not only was she my boss, but she was also a mentor. She helped me explore all my college-campus questions, and even wrote a letter of recommendation for me later on. Overall, she connected me to so many resources on campus, as she did for other students as well. Being connected to her gave me access to knowledge that helped me succeed.

After graduation, I applied to opportunities that would allow me to gain experience working with children. I took a gap year, and currently work at Chicago Speech Therapy as a Speech Therapy Practice Associate. Getting the hands-on experience with the clinic is amazing. Here at their therapeutic preschool, I am in a classroom setting, helping out and observing speech therapy sessions. I also work with their intake team, so I get to work with adults too, which provides a nice balance. Graduate school is financially hard to pay off, so this way I’m able to get experience before committing to a program. Within the next five years I hope to have completed a graduate school program and be a certified speech-language pathologist working in Chicago.

When you come to Illinois, make sure that you build a support system. If you haven’t yet, start to build one – whether that be friends or professionals – because it goes a long way. If you want to reconnect or you want to find more opportunities, having that support system makes it easier. It is definitely helpful having a support system that you stay in touch with, especially for those who decide to take a gap year. You will likely need recommendation letters eventually, and sometimes those letters need to be from professors, so it’s good to maintain that relationship with them after you graduate. Keep in touch so you have that connection when you reach back out. The last thing I would say is related to the current situation with the pandemic, which is to make sure that you’re taking your mental health into consideration. It’s not an easy time to be completing and graduating college. So, if you can graduate college– especially during a pandemic – you can do anything.